Postnatal depression and anxiety can be diagnosed up until your baby turns 12 months of age, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms in case you develop it later (or even to be helpful to another mum who might be experiencing some of these symptoms).
The organisation PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) tells us that at least one in five women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and/or following birth. One in ten fathers experience depression and anxiety following the birth of a baby.
I found it significant that nearly every single mum in the Mama Village mothers groups this week shared experiences of postnatal depression and anxiety to varying degrees. Whilst I certainly expected to hear stories from mums given the rates in our community, I was surprised at the level of impact depression and anxiety is having on us all.
Whilst there may not be adequate research in the causes of the rise, I truly believe that the loss of our physical villages has had a big impact on the experiences of mothers and fathers. The fact so many of us live away from our family and friends, that we have limited support, and often feel lonely and isolated certainly doesn’t help our mental health.
There’s also a number of other things that can increase the risk including:
- a history of depression or anxiety
- a family history of depression or anxiety
- a history of loss (fertility treatment, miscarriage, stillbirth)
- a difficult pregnancy
- a traumatic birth
- separation from baby following birth (baby in NICU, special care)
- illness for mum or baby at time of birth
- post birth injuries/wounds/pain
- breastfeeding difficulties and grief and loss
- life events – family deaths, moving house, financial strain etc
Signs and symptoms
- panic attacks (racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking)
- persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health, wellbeing or safety of baby
- obsessive or compulsive thoughts and/or behaviours
- intrusive or disturbing thoughts
- mood swings
- feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
- feeling nervous, ‘on edge’ or panicky
- feeling tired or lacking energy
- having little or no interest in the things that normally bring you joy
- sleeping too much or not sleeping well
- withdrawing from friends and family
- being easily annoyed or irritated
- feeling angry
- finding it difficult to focus (brain fog)
- thoughts of harming your baby or yourself
What can we do about it?
If you identify with a number of the symptoms above that have occurred in the past 7 days, or know someone who is struggling, please follow these suggestions:
- See a GP for assessment.
- Start counselling.
- Discuss whether antidepressant medication is suitable for you with your GP.
- Exercise – the release of endorphins has been proven to assist in mood – it’s not just good for your body, but your mind.
- Eat well – nourishing your body with good nutrition will help it function at its optimal level. Avoid the blood sugar swings when eating sugary foods and carbs.
- Sleep or rest as much as you can – sleep deprivation can really have a negative effect on our mental health (I probably didn’t need to tell you this!).
- Build your village of support – ask for help! If you don’t have anyone to volunteer to help (family or friends), consider paying for help – hire a postnatal doula, hire a cleaner, buy in some meals to be delivered to your home, get your groceries delivered. Take steps to lessen your load, even if it’s a short term solution.
- Find emotional support – it might be through counselling, through the Mama Village mothers groups, or another service. There are plenty of services available for you to connect with other mums. If you need suggestions, please ask me and I will point you in the right direction!
- Reach out to other mums to normalise your experiences. Given the rates of depression and anxiety you most likely won’t need to go far to find someone else struggling too.
- Understand that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. You will be a better person, a better mother, if you take care of your mental health.
I regularly see mums in counselling for postnatal depression and anxiety. If you feel like you need support in this area, please let me know to make an appointment. Otherwise, if you would prefer to see someone else, and don’t know where to look, let me know that too and I’ll happily refer you elsewhere.
Please don’t struggle alone. Support is out there. It CAN get better and it will get better with the right treatment and support in place for you. Click here for further support.